In an earlier life, Jason Owen worked in television for visionaries like Aaron Spelling. Now as one of Nashville’s most influential managers, he’s taking what he learned from the 90210 creator to revive country music’s long-standing history with TV — and maybe catapult the next real superstar in the process.
“If you think of Dolly or Reba, they had tremendous careers in TV and film, and we haven’t had anyone in that world since,” says Owen, who has transformed country singer Kacey Musgraves into a pop-culture sensation not just with her music but through TV specials like Amazon’s The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show. “I think of Kacey like Cher. When you have all those pieces as an artist, that’s when you really create true icons. I believe an icon touches everything, and people like Dolly and Reba do that, and Cher obviously does that. We need a new icon.”
It’s no surprise then that one of three TV projects Owen currently has in development is actually titled Icon — an anthology series for Fox that will dramatize the lives of country music royalty, beginning with mother-daughter duo the Judds. “Their story is just perfect. You can’t make this shit up,” says Owen, who is an admitted fan of “soapy dramas.”
His other project for Fox also scratches that itch — a scripted series he describes as a country version of “Empire meets Desperate Housewives” that will be more “over the top” than the ABC/CMT drama Nashville. “I wanted to work on [a series] that was not so inside-baseball like Nashville was,” says Owen, who adds that the soundtrack won’t follow Nashville‘s template of original songs but rather interpret country hits of the Eighties, Nineties, and 2000s. “It will be older country music, but reimagined a little bit like Glee.”
Along with Musgraves’, the Arkansas native guides the careers of Nashville heavyweights like Faith Hill, Dan + Shay, Little Big Town, Kelsea Ballerini, and Midland (whom he co-manages with Matt Graham, spotlighted elsewhere in the Future 25) and says he plans to incorporate his clients into his film and TV projects. “You’ll see my artists being involved, whether on camera or on a producer level,” Owen promises.
Owen, who is co-president of the label Monument Records with Shane McAnally, spent 10 years at Universal before launching Sandbox Entertainment in 2010. He saw firsthand how the industry begin to prioritize quick hits and lucrative paydays over building long-term careers, and he laments the trend of bundling concert tickets with albums. “It devalued the live experience,” he says. “It became so commerce-driven that it lost some of the artistry and a lot of the true artist development in the process.” At Sandbox, he champions the old-school mindset of slowly allowing an artist to find their voice.
But Owen is still happy to rock the boat in other ways. When Republican pundit Mike Huckabee was named to the board of the CMA Foundation, the country organization’s music-education arm, in 2018, Owen — a married gay man with three children — penned an emotionally charged letter to the CMA blasting the appointment. Huckabee offered his resignation the next day.
“I’m proud of the support that I got from my peers and my artists and my family, and I would do it again in a second,” Owen says of the letter. “But that situation was really scary. Not scary to write it and say it, but we had to get security at the house for a month, and we had to get security at Sandbox. It was dangerous, but I wouldn’t change it. I think one day my kids will read [the letter] and understand it. And that’s really what this is for.”
His third TV project is a reality documentary series for Apple TV, with Reese Witherspoon, that seeks to discover country singers with interesting backstories from all over the globe. “You may have an amazing gay kid from Tokyo that sounds like George Strait, and he would never have had an opportunity. That’s what we hope to give him,” Owen says.